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Agri ministry still hesitant about onion import

Price hits Tk 80-95 a kg

YASIR WARDAD | May 31, 2023 00:00:00

Prices of onion, which showed a slight decline a few days ago, started rising again from Tuesday as retail costs soared to Tk 80-95 a kg in different city areas.

The price was Tk 75-85 a kg on Monday.

Al Amin, a vendor at Rayerbazar kitchen market, said: "Prices have increased today at Shyambazar, Karwanbazar and Beribandh wholesale outlets."

"I bought onion at Tk 78 a kg today which was Tk 71 a kg on Monday," he added.

Mr Amin said the prices posted a decline a few days back as ministers announced to permit import. "But imported onions were yet to hit markets."

Farid Uddin, a spice trader at Shyambazar, told the FE that prices of onion might surpass even Tk 100 wholesale for lack of import.

He said onion production has declined notably this year in major hubs.

Yet, big traders in Rajbari, Faridpur, Gopalganj, Pabna and other hubs have stored a big chunk of onion to make windfall profits before Eid-ul-Azha, claimed Mr Farid.

Narayan Chandra Saha, a Shyambazar-based spice trader and importer, said many Indian exporters were ready to ship onion following verbal orders from their Bangladeshi counterparts.

Several days have elapsed but the permission was not granted, forcing them to return back their trucks from the Indian part of Hili border, he said.

The commerce ministry on the second week of this month (May) sent a letter to the ministry of agriculture (MoA) to permit onion import.

Commerce minister Tipu Munshi also declared to import onion following further volatility as prices have already increased by 80-100 per cent just in a month.

Last week, both agriculture minister Dr Muhammad Abdur Razzaque and MoA secretary also announced to permit onion import if the skyrocketing trend continues.

Addressing newsmen, Dr Razzaque also recognised that onion output fell to 3.4-million tonnes in 2023 from 3.7-million tonnes in 2022.

The country has a stock of 1.8-million tonnes to meet the demand up to the beginning of next harvest.

Dr Razzaque said the government would take some more days to permit the import.

Asked, MoA additional secretary Rabindra Sri Barua said: "Onion prices declined by Tk 5.0-10 a kg a few days back which lessened our concern to some extent."

"But I've got reports that prices have started increasing again from today (Tuesday)," he told the FE.

MoA high officials are scheduled to sit with minister Razzaque today (Wednesday) to take a concrete decision on onion import, said Mr Barua.

Value-chain expert Prof Dr Rashidul Hasan of Sher-e-Bangla Agricultural University said the MoA initiative to restrict onion import during local harvest season was praiseworthy.

"But harvest season has ended and farmers have no onion in stock while price has also increased by nearly 100 per cent just in a month probably for a possible decline in output."

"Given the current situation," he said, "the ministry should permit onion import immediately to give the already inflation-hit consumers some sort of relief."

Meanwhile, Consumers Association of Bangladesh vice-president SM Nazer Hossain said the demand for effective market monitoring was still a far cry.

He said the seasonal onion varieties were traded by small farmers at Tk 14-22 a kg in onion hubs during the February-April period.

The same is being traded now at Tk 48-55 a kg by district wholesalers, Tk 65-75 by Dhaka wholesalers and Tk 80-95 by retailers.

Mr Hossain also called for quick permission of onion import by the ministry as demand swells three to four times during Eid-ul-Azha festival.

Economist Prof Gazi MA Jalil is upset about a big mismatch between production data of the MoA and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).

"The ministry claims onion production was 3.7-million tonnes in 2022 when BBS data said it was 2.7-million tonnes," he said categorically. This year, the ministry is claiming it to be 3.4-million tonnes while the BBS is yet to give any official data, according to Prof Jalil.

"Policy-makers could make immediate decisions on exports or imports only if the MoA stops giving such 'hypothetical' data and the BBS could provide necessary statistics in time."

The BBS's reluctance to deliver data in time is also a major cause for market volatility of several products in the country, he concluded.

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